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LONDON — The British government has laid out the details of a plan to significantly increase the size and role of its Army reserves to balance heavy reductions to full-time forces resulting from Ministry of Defence budget cuts.
A white paper published by the government July 3 spells out how it intends to recruit, train, deploy and equip a volunteer Army reserve force that will expand by about a half by 2018.
Included is a scheme to create a cyber Army reserve made up of IT specialists and others to counter the growing threat to military capabilities posed by computer hacking.
The effort to increase trained Army reserve personnel from 15,000 to 30,000 comes as the regular Army is shrinking from 102,000 to 80,000 as part of a severe budget reduction.
Air Force and Navy reserves are also being increased but by much smaller numbers and without the big changes to how the units operate envisaged for the Army reserves.
Defence Secretary Philip Hammond told Parliament that the changes to the structure of the reserves were a “key” to Britain maintaining the military capabilities required in the future.
“We are revitalising our Reserve Forces, reversing the decline of the recent past, growing their trained strength and investing an additional £1.8 billion over 10 years to do this. This marks a significant step forward as we change our relationship with Reservists, their families and employers; dramatically improving what we offer them,” said Hammond in a statement.
The government said the £1.8 billion (US $2.7 billion) investment includes an additional £200 million for Army reserve equipment and £240 million in training, some of it overseas .
British Prime Minister David Cameron also announced recently that the MoD planned to bring forward to this year up to £40 million in spending on dismounted close combat equipment such as night vision systems, thermal imaging devices, GPS devices and small arms.
The Army Reserve, presently known as the Territorial Army, is already receiving new vehicles and uniforms.
Among the changes outlined by the white paper is a plan to pair reserve units with regular units that operate in a similar role.
Reserves will in the future be deployed as entire units for contingent or enduring operations as well as in small numbers of individuals to fill gaps in regular units, as is the case currently.
Reserve force numbers have declined in recent years, particularly in the Army, and critics of the scheme have questioned whether the MoD will be able to raise the numbers of reservists required.
The Army admits that making its required numbers will be a challenge, particularly for a cyber reserve force, where it is looking at changing entry standards to reflect the fact “they may not necessarily fit the traditional reservist profile.”
Despite the planned boost to reserve numbers, Britain will still have a smaller number of part-time soldiers than many other Western nations.
The US, Canada and Australia are among the leading militaries that have a higher ratio of reserve forces to regular forces compared with the planned British increase
The white paper outlines the pension, health entitlement, pay and other benefits the reservists can expect in the Army Reserve 2020 program.
It also lays out some of the incentives planned for employers to release personnel for front-line service, particularly small to medium-size companies where, among other incentives, it is offering a £500-a-month payment for deployed staff.